How to create boundaries for your lockdown buying habits

Astrid suggests that we could use our boundary-making mechanisms to limit our buying, too

A rising generation of young people are mastering the art of how to set boundaries. Thanks to pop psychology and ubiquitous self-help threads on Instagram, our personal lives and relationships have seemingly evolved, and we are able to let go of literally anything that no longer serves them. We have the ground of wellness and interpersonal boundaries well-covered; we know what serves us and what doesn’t.

So, why don’t we apply the same screening process to our belongings? For some reason, when we move from people to products, everything goes out the proverbial window (and into the literal bin).

Why You Shouldn’t Keep Clicking the Buy Button

Indulgent lockdown shopping is well-covered ground. You may even know your card details by heart now – hey, it’s practical. What we don’t always talk about is its impact. This is partly because shopping brings joy in a time of uncertainty, and partly because this uncertainty is running high enough without facing our environmental impact.

But this is not solely an environmental concern. Your shopping habits have a uniquely personal significance, however much or little you buy, and now is as good a time as any to reflect that. My question is this: how long does that shopping-fuelled joy last? How long is it before you are browsing to fill that boredom-shaped void again? It seems increasingly evident that we are searching for fulfilment in products. Amazon literally describe their warehouses as ‘fulfilment centres’. In short, we are attuned to buying our way out of our problems.

 Some Animals Just Love to Hoard

As well as a need to secure the next big thing, we find it terribly hard to let go of those possessions which no longer serve us. If we take a step back and re-imagine the consequences of this – in the context of setting healthy boundaries and curating our own experiences – we see that surrounding ourselves with stuff (without a lot of thought) creates as much of a mental clutter as it does physical.

There is some kind of insatiable urge to collect and display an array of items that represent Who We Are, particularly in students living away from home for the first time. Although, it’s not just students (we’re not always the guilty party).  When researching this phenomenon, I discovered that the Satin Bowerbird collects colourful items in an attempt to attract the attention of a mate. I would imagine one or two of you have acquired an extensive music poster and vintage Nike collection for the very same reason. After all, it fits perfectly with your vision of a 20-something up-and-coming artist’s room, which is so ‘your thing’… I may or may not be talking about myself here. Alas, this paraphernalia is collecting cobwebs. Even in the animal kingdom, this is known as hoarding.

There’s nothing wrong with creating a space that immediately communicates who you are. The problem lies in the quantity of stuff that fills the space. You end up with a subconscious – and sometimes conscious – overwhelm of information and clothing, most of which is there simply because it always has been or it’s for a version of you that hasn’t come into fruition yet.

A Greater Sense of Self

This is why we might begin to find creating boundaries not just in our personal lives, but in our buying habits, useful. It might be important to remind yourself that you are not your stuff, but yet, simultaneously, it should still reflect who you are. There is no use in ignoring the fact that we are a consumer society whose propensity to accumulate is rising still. According to the House of Commons library, total consumer spending has more than doubled since 1985.

What we need to do is work with this information and rethink the what we are welcoming in. The more you curate, the greater your sense of self. Carefully select things that will give you joy over a greater period of time, not just instant gratification. The trick is prioritising what is most important to you, making space for those things, and thus getting a better picture of what they are.

If you are someone who worries about sustainability, you can assuage that worry by looking for good quality second-hand items. If you are someone that takes great pleasure in choosing clothes, try to ensure there is nothing in your wardrobe that hasn’t been worn in the last month, so you are making the most of your things. Perhaps you have a very heavy workload and you just need simplicity. It’s all about what works best for you.

There is a certain freedom in owning less. With fewer choices to make and less time spent looking for things, it’s also far easier to move between places and manage your spending. Of course, we won’t be jetting off to backpack anywhere soon, but students moving between properties can really see the benefits, for example, when they move between properties with fewer bags and suitcases.

Creating Your Own Boundaries

When you start becoming more selective and intentional in your buying and in what you keep, a sense of harmony ensues. Something as simple as getting rid of the stuff that no longer serves you not only means a calmer, unified space but a calm and unified mind.

Is minimalism the new meditation? Possibly, but that’s not something that appeals to everyone and we can see that (generally) the more disposable income you have, the more you are able to curate. This is to say that money gives you more choice.

However, there is an overlap in being selective about the items you acquire and saving money as a result. This offers a broader appeal. A deliberate ‘extreme spareness’ does often feel like a very middle-class concept, and so it is important to move away from the idea of an empty room in the name of minimalism and consider the practicalities. It should be a concept independent from pure style or aesthetics, and one which instead values practical living. Ultimately, you are creating your own boundaries.

This might look like taking time before purchasing those trousers online or realising that disco light you bought for a wine-fuelled night-in with your housemates is going in the bin once you’ve had your fun with it. Maybe it’s difficult to avoid feeling like the ultimate buzzkill in deciding that the disco light is a no-go, but ideally ‘the thing’ is immaterial to enjoying yourself and having meaningful experiences. It could also look like rounding up some things to sell on for extra cash, or maybe you set yourself a limit to how many extra items you purchase in a month. You might find that writing up a screening process for those things is beneficial, remembering to make it tailor-made and personal.

If you take a look at the #settingboundaries hashtag on Instagram, there are 58.4K posts with all kinds of helpful and unhelpful advice sitting there for its one billion users. That’s a huge impact. One post from @boundariesbooks reads “We can’t really love until we have boundaries – otherwise we love out of compliance or guilt.”[6] A solid piece of advice, right? What if we replaced the word ‘love’ with ‘buy’? It speaks a strange truth.

Does this viewpoint on our lockdown spending resound with you? Let us know in the comments. 

All photography by Astrid Spruzen

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